1915, 1919, 1922, 2004, Music

Ives: Concord Sonata; Songs (2004) by Pierre-Laurent Aimard with Susan Graham

This is one of those discs that pairs two different types of music and so, right off the bat, kind of annoys me. Ives has plenty of songs to release a whole disc (or many discs) of them, without instrumental music. (For example, one of his collections is called 114 Songs.) And he’s got plenty of piano music to do the same. I know this is something I need to get over, but I don’t fully understand the reason to program like this. As to the actual music:

Here we have 17 of Ives’ songs and, as far as I can tell, all of them are taken from 114 Songs. Whatever annoyance I have in finding yet another CD programmed to include different types of music disappears when I listen to these songs. Though this is hardly a complete collection – probably something that’s borderline impossible, given Ives’ reputation of misdating – it feels like a great selection. These songs are rather incredible, none more so than “Memories,” certainly one of the most radical (and meta) art songs that had yet been composed. But all of these songs show Ives at his best: combining high art tradition with more low brow musical (and theatrical) influences, and a willingness to violate received tradition whenever he felt like it. It makes me want to find as near a complete collection as possible, and hear all of these, as I suspect many of them – if not most – are wonderful.

The Sonata is far more radical than the songs, as you might expect. From the opening notes, it sounds as if Ives studied under Schoenberg – to my uneducated ears, at least. And, aside from flirting with atonality, it also breaks other (perhaps unwritten) rules, including featuring different supporting interests in the different movements. It’s a landmark and there’s a reason it’s possibly his most famous work.

So, despite myself, I really enjoy this collection. It pairs excellent music together (and maybe that’s the rationale behind it), even if that music doesn’t quite fit together.


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